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The almond

Wiki Spanish Food editorial team

The almond tree is possibly the most common and popular nut tree, and it most likely grew first in the Middle East and later extended to the banks of the Mediterranean, to northern Africa and to southern Europe. Moreover, it's one of the first fruit trees to be domesticated.

It is mentioned several times in the Bible, and in Christianity, almond branches are often used as a symbol of Christ's virgin birth. It appeared at Tutankhamen's tomb in Egypt, and legend has it that it blossomed on the remains of one of the daughters of King Midas. In Rome, the almond is known as the "Greek nut", and it was used very often in soups and sweets during the Middle Ages.

There are notable and very lucrative orchards in Spain, with an area set aside for trees equivalent to that of oranges. The almond harvest is in October, and they are available in stores all year round, usually roasted or fried. In Spain, they are grown along the Mediterranean coast and are a fundamental part of the Mediterranean diet.

A Mediterranean tree

Mallorca, which is the main producer (accounting for more than 10% of total production), is home to splendid orchards in the towns of Manacor, La Pobla and Inca. They are also grown abundantly in the regions of Valencia (Jijona, Valle del Vinalopó, Novelda, Monóvar), Andalusia (Guadix, Adra and Baza), Aragón, Murcia (Segura river basin) and Catalonia (Camp de Tarragona, Les Garrigues, Penedès, Vallès). The fruit is classified in the same subgenus as the peach, and when it matures it opens to reveal the pit, which contains the classic green almond, the seed of which is the almond. The almond is white and shiny after it sheds its brown-colored skin.

The most common varieties grown in Spain are the Marcona, which have always been prized for their gastronomic qualities and which require very specific care but offer a highly unique flavor. It's a round, thick, sweet almond with a slightly bitter taste, and it is the most popular nut in the confectionery industry. Other interesting varieties in Spain include Largueta, Desmayo Rojo (which blossoms later), Atocha (very productive) and Garrigues.

Sweet and savory cuisine

In pastry-making, almonds are a great source of aromas for all kinds of cakes, ice creams, turrón, marzipan and chocolates. They are included in Aragón nougat and Galician almond cake, but they are used in far more recipes. In savory cuisine, they can accompany fish, such as trout; meat, such as chicken or squab; and can be included in all kinds of stuffings. Almonds are the basis of ajoblanco, one of the most well-known cold Mediterranean soups. They're also consumed in the popular beverage on Spain's east coast known as horchata, and almond milk is popular due to its protein content, and it is a light drink with a pleasant flavor. They are ideal for children and adolescents as they contain a lot of potassium and calcium.

They are the perfect addition to any healthy, balanced diet and they reduce cholesterol and prevent heart disease due to their high oleic acid content.  Another interesting and popular use of almonds today is in perfumes, with products such as bitter almond essence. Almond oil is used as a moisturizer, and its essence is used in cosmetics to provide a delicate aroma.

When pairing wine with sweet recipes that contain almonds, such as panettones, panellets and macaroons, the best options are Moscatel, Monastrell and Fondillón.

Long-standing pastry-making tradition

We recommend sampling almond sweets in a few traditional pastry shops in Madrid with many years of experience. LA DUQUESITA, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year, continues to offer the same delicious almond pastries it always has. El HORNO DE SAN ONOFRE has, for many years, prepared one of the best almond cakes available in Madrid. NEGURI has had success for more than five decades with its rusos (almond pastries).  JARDIN DEL CONVENTO, known for its artisan confections, sells delicious candied almonds. In Málaga port, JOSE CARLOS GARCÍA prepares an outstanding ajoblanco with apples at his eponymous restaurant. And in Barcelona, Christian Escribà sells panellets and other sweet almond-based delicacies at his classic pastry shop ESCRIBÀ.

ADDRESSES

LA DUQUESITA. Fernando VI, 2. Tel.: 913 080231. Madrid www.laduquesita.es

HORNO DE SAN ONOFRE. San Onofre, 3. Tel.: 915 329 060. Madrid www.hsonofre.com

NEGURI. Espronceda, 38. Tel.: 914 411 134. Madrid www.neguri.es

JARDIN DEL CONVENTO. Cordón, 1. Tel.: 915 412 299. Madrid www.eljardindelconvento.com

JOSÉ CARLOS GARCÍA. Muelle Uno. Tel.: 952 003 588. Málaga www.restaurantejcg.com

PASTELERÍA ESCRIBÀ. Las Ramblas, 83. Tel.: 933 016 027. Barcelona. www.escriba.es

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11/12/2014